Gospel of Philip

Gospel of Philip
Gospel of Philip
Date ca. 180-350 AD
Attribution None
Manuscripts Nag Hammadi library
Theme Christian Gnostic sacraments

The Gospel of Philip is one of the Gnostic Gospels, a text of New Testament apocrypha, dating back to around the third century but lost to modern researchers until an Egyptian peasant rediscovered it by accident, buried in a cave near Nag Hammadi, in 1945.[1] Although this gospel may at first appear similar to the Gospel of Thomas, it is not a sayings gospel, but a collection of gnostic teachings and reflections, a "gnostic anthology", as Marvin Meyer has called it.[2] Sacraments, in particular the sacrament of marriage, are a major theme. The text is perhaps most famous as a very early source for the idea that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. Though this is never explicitly stated in the document itself, she is described as Jesus' "lover" in some translations. Although the original text is missing from the papyrus scriptures discovered, some translations 'fill in' the gap, suggesting; “Jesus loved Mary Magdalene more than all the disciples and used to kiss her often on the mouth.”[3]

The text's title is modern; the only connection with Philip the Apostle is that he is the only apostle mentioned (at 73,8). The text makes no claim to be from Philip, though, similarly, the four New Testament gospels make no explicit claim to be written by Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. The Gospel of Philip was written between 150 AD and 300 AD, while Philip himself died 80 AD, making it extremely unlikely to be his writing. Most scholars hold a 3rd century date of composition.[4]


History and context

A single manuscript of the Gospel of Philip, in Coptic (CG II), was found in the Nag Hammadi library, a cache of documents that was secreted in a jar and buried in the Egyptian desert at the end of the fourth century. The text was bound in the same codex that contained the better-known Gospel of Thomas.

Among the mix of aphorisms, parables, brief polemics, narrative dialogue, biblical exegesis (especially of Genesis), and dogmatic propositions, Wesley T. Isenberg, the editor and translator of the text, has enumerated seventeen sayings (logia) attributed to Jesus, nine of which are citations and interpretations of Jesus' words already found in the canonical gospels[5] The new sayings,[6] "identified by the formula introducing them ('he said', 'the Lord said', or 'the Saviour said') are brief and enigmatic and are best interpreted from a gnostic perspective," Isenberg has written in his Introduction to the text (see link).

Much of the Gospel of Philip is concerned with Gnostic views of the origin and nature of mankind and the sacraments of baptism, unction and marriage. The Gospel emphasizes the sacramental nature of the embrace between man and woman in the nuptial chamber, which is an archetype of spiritual unity, which entails the indissoluble nature of marriage[7] Many of the sayings are identifiably gnostic, and often appear quite mysterious and enigmatic:

  • Blessed is he who is before he came into being. For he who is, has been and shall be.
  • He who has knowledge of the truth is a free man, but the free man does not sin, for "He who sins is the slave of sin" [John 8:34]. Truth is the mother, knowledge the father.
  • Echamoth is one thing and Echmoth, another. Echamoth is Wisdom simply, but Echmoth is the Wisdom of death, which is the one who knows death, which is called "the little Wisdom".
  • Those who say they will die first and then rise are in error. If they do not first receive the resurrection while they live, when they die they will receive nothing. (Compare with translation provided by the Nag Hammadi library: "Those who say that the Lord died first and then rose up are in error – for He rose up first and then died. )
  • Jesus came to crucify the world.
  • Jesus took them all by stealth, for he did not appear as he was, but in the manner in which they would be able to see him. He appeared to them all. He appeared to the great as great. He appeared to the small as small. He appeared to the angels as an angel, and to men as a man.
  • It is not possible for anyone to see anything of the things that actually exist unless he becomes like them... You saw the Spirit, you became spirit. You saw Christ, you became Christ. You saw the Father, you shall become Father. So in this place you see everything and do not see yourself, but in that place you do see yourself - and what you see you shall become.
  • Adam came into being from two virgins, from the Spirit and from the virgin earth. Christ therefore, was born from a virgin to rectify the Fall which occurred in the beginning.

One saying in particular appears to identify the levels of initiation in gnosticism, although what exactly the bridal chamber represented in gnostic thought is currently a matter of great debate:

The Lord did everything in a mystery, a baptism and a chrism and a eucharist and a redemption and a bridal chamber.

Some[who?] Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) believe this "bridal chamber" to be a reference to a sacred and ancient rite to receive exaltation called "the new and everlasting covenant of marriage," or "eternal marriage."[citation needed]

Another interpretation of the Gospel of Philip finds Jesus as the central focus of the text. This view is supported by the Gnostic scholar, Marvin W. Meyer. Evidence for this belief can be found in the following selection of quotations from the gospel:

  • Those who receive the name of the father, the son, and holy spirit...[are] no longer a Christian, but [are] Christ.
  • 'My God, My God, why, lord, have you forsaken me?' [Jesus] spoke these words on the cross, for he had left that place.
  • We are born again through the holy spirit, and we are conceived through Christ in baptism with two elements. We are anointed through the spirit, and when we are conceived, we were united.
  • Jesus revealed himself at the Jordan River as the fullness of heaven's kingdom.
  • As Jesus perfected the water of baptism, he poured out death. For this reason we go down into the water but not into death, that we may not be poured out into the spirit of the world.

Thus, according to Meyer, it is clear that without Jesus, the rituals and mysteries mentioned in this gospel would have no context. Furthermore, this text seems to follow the beliefs of the Valentinian Christian sect, a group that worshipped the Gnostic Christ, and is often linked to what is sometimes thought to be Valentinius' own text, the Gospel of Truth.

The Gospel of Philip ends with its promise:

If anyone becomes a 'son of the bridechamber' he will receive the Light. If anyone does not receive it while he is in these places, he cannot receive it in the other place.[8] He who receives any Light will not be seen, nor can he be held fast. No one will be able to trouble him in this way, whether he lives in the world or leaves the world. He has already received the Truth in images, and the World has become the Aeon. For the Aeon already exists for him as Pleroma, and he exists in this way. It is revealed to him alone, since it is not hidden in darkness and night but is hidden in a perfect Day and a holy Night.[9]

Mary Magdalene

The Gospel of Philip has been cited for the idea that Jesus married Mary Magdalene.[10] Much of the Gospel of Philip is dedicated to a discussion of marriage as a sacred mystery, and two passages directly refer to Mary Magdalene and her close relationship with Jesus:

There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary, his mother, and her sister, and Magdalene, the one who was called his companion. His sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary.

That passage is also interesting for its mention of Jesus's sister (Jesus's unnamed sisters are mentioned in the New Testament at Mark 6:3), although the text is confusing on that point: she appears to be described first as the sister of Jesus's mother Mary, then as the sister of Jesus, although this may be a translation problem. Mary Magdalene is called Jesus's companion, partner or consort, using the word koinônos, of Greek origin, and the word hôtre, of Egyptian origin.[11] The other passage referring to Mary Magdalene is incomplete because of damage to the original manuscript. Several words are missing. The best guesses as to what they were are shown below in brackets. Most notably there is a hole in the manuscript after the phrase "and used to kiss her often on her...." But the passage appears to describe Jesus kissing Magdalene and using a parable to explain to the disciples why he loved her more than he loved them:

And the companion of [the saviour was Mar]y Ma[gda]lene. [Christ loved] M[ary] more than [all] the disci[ples, and used to] kiss her [often] on her [mouth]. The rest of [the disciples were offended by it and expressed disapproval]. They said to him "Why do you love her more than all of us?" The Saviour answered and said to them, "Why do I not love you like her? When a blind man and one who sees are both together in darkness, they are no different from one another. When the light comes, then he who sees will see the light, and he who is blind will remain in darkness.

However, "mouth" is not necessarily the word after "kiss her... on her". It may have been another body part and simply shown respect.[12]

Problems concerning the text

The Gospel of Philip is a text that reveals some connections with Early Christian writings of the Gnostic traditions. It is a series of logia or pithy aphoristic utterances, most of them apparently quotations and excerpts of lost writings, without any attempt at a narrative context. The main theme concerns the value of sacraments. Scholars debate whether the original language was Syriac or Greek. Wesley W. Isenberg, the text's translator, places the date "perhaps as late as the 2nd half of the 3rd century" and places its probable origin in Syria due to its references to Syriac words and eastern baptismal practices as well as its ascetic outlook. The on-line Early Christian Writings site gives it a date ca 180 – 250.[13] Second or third century dates is the range given in The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook, Marvin W.Meyer editor, 1987 p. 235.


The text has been interpreted by Isenberg (The Nag Hammadi Library in English, p. 141) as a Christian Gnostic sacramental catechesis. Bentley Layton [14] identified it as a Valentinian anthology of excerpts, and Elaine Pagels and Martha Lee Turner have seen it as possessing a consistent and Valentinian theology. It is dismissed by Ian Wilson (Jesus: The Evidence, 2000 p.88) who argues that it "has no special claim to an early date, and seems to be merely a Mills and Boon-style fantasy of a type not uncommon among Christian apocryphal literature of the third and fourth centuries."

It should be noted, however, that Paterson Brown, on the Ecumenical Coptic Project website, has argued forcefully (1) that the text is evidently by Philip the Evangelist (Acts 6:5) rather than Philip the Apostle; and (2) that the three Coptic Gospels of Thomas, Philip and Truth cannot be considered Gnostic writings or compilations, since they all three explicitly affirm the basic reality and sanctity of incarnate life, which Gnosticism by definition considers illusory and evil ('Are the Coptic Gospels Gnostic?').


  1. ^ "Rivals of Jesus," National Geographic Channel (2006).
  2. ^ Marvin Meyer, The gospels of Mary: the secret tradition of Mary Magdalene, the companion of Jesus (2004) p. 36.
  3. ^ "Rivals of Jesus," National Geographic Channel (2006)
  4. ^ Ehrman, Bart (2003). Lost Christianities. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. xi-xii. 
  5. ^ Those in the canonical New Testament: 55,33-34; 57,3-5; 68,8-12; 68,26-27; 72,33-73,1; 77,18; 83,11-13; 84,7-9; 85,29-31.
  6. ^ The new sayings: 55,37-56,3; 58,10-14; 59,25-27; 63,29-30; 64,2-9; 64,10-12; 67,30-35; and 74,25-27.
  7. ^ The Old and New Testament and Gnostic contexts and the text are discussed by Robert M. Grant, "The Mystery of Marriage in the Gospel of Philip" Vigiliae Christianae 15.3 (September 1961:129-140).
  8. ^ Luke 16.26 is indicated.
  9. ^ Gospel of Philip P127, as quoted in Grant 1961:138.
  10. ^ For an example in popular culture, see the 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code.
  11. ^ Noted by Meyer 2004:37.
  12. ^ In the critical edition edited by Bentley Layton,, the feet, a cheek and the forehead of Mary are raised as possibilities; see also Craig A. Evans, Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels. Downers Grove, IL: Ivp Books, 2008:94.
  13. ^ http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/gospelphilip.html
  14. ^ The Gnostic Scriptures, Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, New York, NY; 1987, ISBN 0-385-47843-7. p. 325

External links


  • Leloup, The Gospel Of Philip: Jesus, Mary Magdalene, And The Gnosis Of Sacred Union 2004.
  • Robinson, James M., The Nag Hammadi Library HarperCollins 1990. The standard translation.
  • Smith, Andrew Phillip, 'The Gospel of Philip: Annotated and Explained,' Skylight Paths, 2005.
  • Turner and McGuire, Nag Hammadi Library After Fifty Years,: Martha Lee Turner, "On the coherence of the Gospel according to Philip, pp. 223 – 250 and Einar Thomasson, "How Valentinian is the Gospel of Philip?" pp. 251 – 279.

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